Faculty, Staff Struggle With Glitches in Financial System

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UC Berkeley faculty and staff are struggling with technological issues emanating from a financial system that officials revamped over the summer, causing delays in financial transactions and leading to inefficiencies in teaching and research due to problems obtaining product supply.

Launched on July 6, the upgraded Berkeley Financial System - dubbed BFS9 - is an upgraded version of a computer system that monitors all campus transactions, from supply-purchases to travel expenses. In the latest program model, problems immediately began to surface with both electronic transactions and buy-to-pay processes.

As a result of systemwide budget shortfalls, campus staff are struggling to find time to address each glitch that the thousands of campus employees who use the system may encounter.

According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Informational Technology and Chief Information Officer Shelton Waggener, for the last decade the BFS program has been individually customized to meet UC Berkeley's needs, such as how to direct where purchases can be made for the campus's many departments. The current system took three years to create and implement.

"We wanted to be able to take advantage of all the changes in the market, like being able to use additional applications and plug them into our (program)," he said. "Instead of having hundreds and hundreds of customizations with thousands of lines of homegrown code, we only kept major changes that we needed."

Waggener said by using the upgraded BFS9, customization costs required in the past are no longer needed. Also, in line with the campus's attempts to save millions of dollars in spending, the program is attempting to streamline a process known as e-procurement.

E-procurement, suggested as a possible savings solution by Bain & Co. in its final diagnostic report of Operational Excellence, would allow faculty and staff to buy supplies online through the BFS9 system.

According to Finance Project Manager Nora Watanabe, BFS9 would provide a catalogue with purchasing options. When professors chose what they would like to order, it would automatically post their transactions to their account. But Waggener admits that though BFS9 was meant to transition "without a hitch," faculty and staff have encountered regular problems with purchasing supplies.

"The buy-to-pay process hasn't been added to e-procurement yet, so not all orders go through correctly, and as a result, are on back order even after the transactions are received," Waggener said. "You can't pay for something you haven't received, but the system doesn't know that. Basically, the process wasn't consistent, and it's become a major problem for departments that need supplies regularly."

Technology Director Greg Merritt said while the old program was outdated, training for BFS9 was not available on a timeline faculty and staff would have preferred.

"It is a common theme that (faculty) wanted better and deeper training earlier on in the launch," he said. "The more vanilla you are, the more cookie cutter you are in your system. Future upgrades would be less painful if the new tool (system) was more generalized and not in every case matching the work and the flow in departments."

According to Waggener, in addition to purchasing issues, problems with program performance - such as adequate boot timing - are typical for systems that are being upgraded. He said, however, these nuances are of concern because the campus cannot have "an inconsistent financial system."

He added that the project suffers from a lack of staff support, resulting in the inability to find speedy resolutions to the problems faculty and staff come across while trying to use the system.

"It's all about the foundational support," Waggener said. "Solving one problem for one person sometimes lets us solve a problem for everyone and sometimes we really do just solve the issue for that one person. It hasn't helped day-to-day life in terms of getting issues cleared."


Katie Nelson is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

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